Carroll boards debate how to use Phase III funds

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At issue is whether to use state construction funds to build new additions to accommodate students after the closing of Woodlawn, or to fix longstanding problems at CCHS and Carroll Intermediate.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter


HILLSVILLE — Carroll School Board members indicated their willingness to spend part of their construction funds on improving mechanical systems, but indicated they still have unfilled facility needs, during a joint meeting with the county supervisors last week.
An auxiliary gym remains a need for the Carroll County High School to give all students a chance to take physical education classes, educators said. Without that, as well as replacing the more than 40-year-old heating and air conditioning systems at CCHS, educators believe the Phase III work will be woefully incomplete.
But even dedicating more funds from the $15 million construction budget to address existing problems in the schools won’t resolve all those issues.
Educators have continued to brainstorm for cost-saving measures to fit as much work as possible into the project to expand both CCHS and Carroll Intermediate to accept more students after Woodlawn closes, School Board Chairman Brian Spencer said.
A new idea involves not expanding the cafeteria into the current auto mechanics shop, so the schools wouldn’t have to spend about a million dollars on a new free-standing shop building.
Heating and air-conditioning upgrades to existing classrooms at the intermediate school would cost about $400,000, for example, Spencer said. That item, the school system would be able to afford.
“So, you know, do we want to have put this much money into the middle school and yet some of those classroom will still be freezing cold or in the summer sweltering hot?” he asked rhetorically. “When you’re spending that much money, shouldn’t we go ahead and fix that c?”
At the high school, the HVAC system is 40 years old — and those never last that long, he continued.
Other problems at the high school include old iron water lines, insufficient bathrooms that need work and not enough space for gym classes for all the students.
Educators are trying to decide how to spend about $1.1 million on school improvements, Spencer said. Without the proposed auxiliary gym, there won’t be space for 11th and 12th graders to take P.E.
Without extra funding, the choice is between the gym or fixing as many existing problems as they can.
“If we don’t add gym capacity we’re going to be telling students who are taking gym as an alternative class as 11th and 12th graders, ‘you can’t take this class anymore,’ or try to use that $1.1 [million] to stretch into a gym... that’s probably going to be $1.8, $1.9 million,” Spencer said.
“Or, should we fix some of these delinquencies that we have in the school system — the heat and air, the water lines, the bathrooms — try to shore up some of those contingencies and wait for another time for the HVAC system and the gym...?”
Concerns remain about not expanding the cafeteria. Would having 300 students trying to use the place in a lunch period cause problems with tempers flaring?
School Board Member Joey Haynes said educators wanted to offer cost-saving ideas, so Phase III could address the concerns members of the public have.
“When I was running for office [last year], the great desire of our constituents was... to try and shore up some of the existing infrastructure in the school,” he explained.
But plans to expand the cafeteria are a part of the construction contract already awarded, School Board Member Reggie Gardner pointed out. Any modifications would require a change order.
He doubted if the contractor would be willing to trade the dollar-for-dollar value of taking the cafeteria expansion out of the equation.
Architect Randy Baker said the contractor would give a change order deduction of $180,000 on the cafeteria work.
Expanding the cafeteria means a choice of building the new auto shop or not offering auto mechanics at all, Spencer said. Having to construct a new shop means there’s no money left to make the needed fixes.
Citizens trust that the county officials will keep the schools as safe and well-maintained as possible, he continued. If the water won’t run or the heat won’t come on in the existing part of the school, then citizens will wonder why the officials went ahead and built a new gym or shop.
“I think it would be a crime to put this much money in the immediate school and not fix the heating and air conditioning situation that we know we have,” Spencer said. “At the same time, we’re adding more than 300 students to [the high school] that doesn’t have water in some areas and the bathrooms ... are just atrocious.”
Unless the schools get help from the supervisors, there will be no way to afford a gym, he added.
 “It’s strange that early on we had asked about some of these things [on the mechanical systems] and they just couldn’t be done which kind of makes me wonder about the planning,” Supervisor David Hutchins reacted.
He asked the school board to write up a trade-off analysis and prioritize the work they want to see.
You couldn’t cut enough from the $15 million to get all the items that both schools need, Supervisor Bob Martin said. Carroll officials are going to have to eventually deal with failed mechanical systems at the high school, if they don’t act soon.
“The problem I see is at the high school, we could have 50 Port-A-Johns out there tomorrow because the whole system went down... and the place is flooded and no bathrooms and no water in the building,” Martin, the Pine Creek supervisor, said. “Frankly, what I see is that the board of supervisors is going to have to open it up. We’re going to have to go with potential grant monies and so forth and we’re going to have to get serious about it.”
And 300 more students and more community use will also mean more wear and tear on the high school, Haynes said.
Supervisor Josh Hendrick agreed with Martin, because the galvanized water pipes have been patched together.
There was an instance when a break couldn’t be welded, so someone put a shoe box over the pipe and then filled it with epoxy.
The school board members that recently took office hoped the supervisors would work with them on these revisions, said Olen Gallimore. If the current board had planned Phase III, things could have been very different.
County officials should consider the HVAC at the high school as non-viable, Spencer said. “I mean, it might be running right now, but officially it’s dead. Do we want to go $15 million in debt and the first day of school, it doesn’t work?”
The previous school board worked to get as much classroom space in the two schools as possible to accommodate the grade shuffling after closing Woodlawn, Gardner pointed out. The estimates for the full project cost came in at $27 million — and then the school board had to fit that into a budget of $15 million.
The supervisors cooperated on applying for the Rural Development funds to do the full project, Supervisors’ Chairman Sam Dickson noted. Those terms included a longer payback period, which made tackling the whole project more affordable.
Supervisors told the school board there would be no more funding after they got the $15 million in qualified school construction bonds.
“If you know you’re planning something that’s going to fail, maybe you should quit planning,” the supervisors’ chairman said.
A decision on whether to proceed with the cafeteria expansion has to be made by the end of February, because that’s when the contractor has the work scheduled, Spencer said.
To clarify, Schools Superintendent Greg Smith said the school board has prioritized what work it wants to do with the unspent construction money — replacing the water lines and toilets at the high school for $675,000 and the HVAC upgrades at the intermediate school for $407,000.
“The issue then is how we handle the rest of the students coming into the building, how do we schedule P.E., and that’s it,” he said.
Hendrick offered his opinion on the idea of building an auxiliary gym. He would not vote for the gym because the HVAC problem would still be there.
If there’s a grant out there to pay for the HVAC, Hendrick believes the county should try for it, he added.
The school system continues to explore funding possibilities, Smith said, like putting in an energy efficient HVAC system and then putting the power savings toward payments for the work.
Trying to afford more of Phase III through cuts just isn’t possible, Martin said.
“I don’t think you and St. Peter together can cut $5 million out of $12 million,” Martin said. “You’ll spend $12 million additional on lawsuits trying to get out of the contracts.”
Before the meeting ended, the school board set a meeting for Feb. 9 at 6 p.m. to work on the analysis that Hutchins requested. Educators said they will present the written document to the supervisors before the meeting so they can study it.
Though a series of joint meetings were planned for Phase III construction topics, Gardner noted that the school board voted to have the school board chairman and superintendent ask for the construction pay requests at the regular board of supervisors meetings.